Headed to the bus station this morning to catch the 9.15am bus to Pushkar. Got there early as we got told a variety of departure times from different people. Whilst waiting for our direct bus, we got to people watch and spent a very uncomfortable moment watching a man on a bus who watched us and appeared to… (fill in the blank yourself). Thankfully, his bus pulled off quickly (as did he – bazinga!!) and was replaced by our empty bus. We actually got a three person seat to ourselves! It is the little things in life that please us.
4.5 hours, 3 traffic jams, a deviation down a railway track and driving past a horrid accident later (FYI – tuktuks aren’t made for going into the back of lorries), we made it to Pushkar. Said to be where Brahma dropped a lotus flower, Pushkar is a compact Hindu pilgrimage town built around a sacred lake.
I’d like to say we did something exciting but once we got to the hotel and had some lunch, we just stayed on the rooftop terrace and enjoyed the view.
Some much needed time chilling out, drinking milkshakes, watching monkeys jump amongst the rooftops and reading books was how the afternoon was spent!
After the sun set, there were a few fireworks set off that looked amazing against the fairy lit hill-top temple.
Another much needed lie-in before heading out for the day. Started by walking to the bus station to check out the bus times for tomorrow’s journey to Pushkar. After that, we continued our walk into the ‘Pink City’. Named as such because in 1876, Maharaja Ram Singh had the entire old city painted pink, a colour associated with hospitality, to welcome the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), and the tradition has been maintained – although it’s a kind of orange rather than a pink! We wandered through the bazaars, dodging motorbikes, tuktuks and cows, towards Jantar Mantar. Construction began in 1728 by Jai Singh, Jantar Mantar is an observatory of massive bizarre sculptures.
Jayne got an audio guide to get an explanation of how each of the instruments work, and how – through watching, recording and calculation – Jai Singh measured time by the course of the sun’s shadow and charted the annual process through the zodiac.
I just wandered around the UNESCO World Heritage Site in awe – it’s quite unbelievable and fascinating to think how advanced in thinking he was especially at that time. Our favourite instrument was the Vrihat Samrat Yantra. A sundial, with its 27m high gnomon; the shadow it casts moves 4m per hour and it gives accurate time to within 2 seconds (even over 300 years since being built!).
We then walked through the bustling streets of the bazaars that make up the old city. We wandered up and down streets selling clothes, shoes, motorbike bits, household goods and pottery. We bought some bangles and watched a man dip silver into a cooking pot so it would become silver plated. It was captivating watching him do it on the street with just an open fire and a piece of cloth.
Continued our walk down the alleys until we found the main road back to the hotel. Stopped for dinner, having the nicest chicken tikka kebab that I’ve ever eaten, even if it did make my lips tingle with the spices!!
Started out day with a much needed lie in… Don’t think either of us realised how tired we were!! Left the hotel around 11.30am to head to the fort-palace of Amber. Got a TukTuk from outside the hotel and within 5 minutes of driving the brake cable snapped!!! The driver pushed it to the side of a very busy road, pulled open his seat / tool box and fixed it himself within 3 minutes… Quite impressive! The rest of the journey was pretty uneventful after that even when the police stopped us to check his license!
Arrived at the Amber Fort and climbed up to the top. Construction began in 1592 and it is bursting with artistic and defensive grandeur. The hills surrounding the fort are littered with battlements and walls whilst the town is situated in the valley. The fort itself had a few different halls, although our favourite was The Jai Mandir (Hall of Victory) as it was decorated with mosaics, mirrors and carved marble. A security guard saw us peeping through the locked grill and, in exchange for 10 rupees (10p), he opened the gate and took us down to the underground water stores. It was quite remarkable how they were able to store such large quantities of rain water to be used daily within the palace. We also found the tunnel system used to connect Amber Fort to the nearby Jaigarh Fort (which was built in 1726). We then headed back to Jaipur via the Water Palace – an abandoned palace built in the middle of a lake. A beautiful property sadly ruined by the amount of rubbish floating in the water and the amount of rats running around on the banks.
Once back in town, we went for a wander around the new part of town. Sat down to admire the ‘Royal Albert Hall’ when we got descended upon by about 50 Indian (mostly female) tourists, all desperate to shake our hands or touch my hair. I even got a child pushed into my arms whilst Jayne looked on and laughed!! It was the couple who asked for a photo with the two of us and then blatantly cut Jayne out of the frame that made us laugh the most!!!
Having booked a 5am train to Jaipur, we were up and out of the hotel by 4am trying to catch a TukTuk to the station. Fortunately, even at that time in the morning, there are a few around so we still managed to get one at a reasonable price. Once at the station, there was a massive thunder storm – as the rain pounded on the metal roof we couldn’t hear a thing! It was so intense and reminded me of the thunderstorms we used to having when I went camping as a kid in Montalivet. Once on the train, we both had a little nap followed by the weirdest coffee I’ve ever drunk in my life!! I thought the vendor was saying ‘Chai… Coffee’ but what we was actually saying was ‘Chai coffee’. Tea flavoured coffee!?!? A taste experience that may not be repeated!!
Managed to navigate the streets to find our hotel and have a rest for a bit! Decided not to do any sightseeing today but headed instead to the local cinema to watch a Bollywood film!
Went to the Raj Mandir Cinema which is, apparently, the number-one Hindi cinema in India. It had an Art Deco / Art Nouveau interior and certainly not what we expected based on the garish exterior!!
Watched the film ‘Shaandaar’ – in Hindi, no subtitles! Fortunately, the storyline was easy enough to follow and there was even the occasional line in English. The film is about a love triangle between Alia and Jagjinder Joginder (JJ) and Bipin (Alia’s father). Bipin believes there’s no guy that will be good enough for his daughter while Alia is a dreamer and JJ is a doer, he can make anything happen! And for obvious reasons Bipin hates JJ. The story of Alia, JJ and Bipin happens during the chaotic and lavish arranged marriage of Alia’s sister to a man only interested in money and his 6-pack. There were lots of semi-nude men and three high dance numbers!! A very different cinema experience to the UK. Lots of shouting at the screen, whooping, cheering and an interval. Also, no intimacy displayed by the main characters – just hinted at – Very Jane Austen but Bollywood style!!!
As we left the cinema, it was obvious that there had been a massive storm – massive puddles of water covered the road. Spent a significant period of time trying to avoid the puddles (Indian roads aren’t the cleanest when dry!) and the traffic, which was doing the same thing! Chilling out watching TV and reading this evening.
After a little lie in, we headed out for breakfast and got snacks for the day from the local kiosk. We were a bit surprised when the shop keeper asked us for double the amount but when we showed him the prices written on the packet (think he was surprised we knew they were there… They’re written very small!!) we were all sorted!
Decided to head out of Agra again today – definitely the most draining town we’ve been to in terms of the persistent touts, vendors and TukTuk drivers. Headed out to Keoladeo Ghana National Park near Bharatpur. Got a local bus (slightly better condition than yesterday’s!) and drove for about 1 and a half hours to the park. Saw a procession for the Indian Paralymics – was the first time either of us have seen individuals with additional needs in India. Managed to get dropped off right outside the entrance, rather than at the bus depot 5km away – the benefit of being western tourists!! Once in the park and after convincing the cycle-rickshaws that we wanted to walk, we started on the Lemon Grass Nature Trail. Stupidly, I had worn my flip flops (not the best wardrobe choice) and Jayne got increasingly annoyed every time I had to stop and pull thorns out of my feet (about every 2 metres!!).
As we were walking we heard twigs snapping nearby. A quick look through the trees and I saw a monkey the size of a large dog! Jayne didn’t see it but was convinced enough to leave the trail (and the bloody thorny bushes) and go to the main path. We saw absolutely loads of wildlife during our 5 hour walk in the park – storks, cranes, herons, owls, kingfishers, deer, hares, ibis, mice, monkeys, parakeets, praying mantis and dung beetles (to name a few). Didn’t see anything pythons or mud turtles which are both suppose to come out from underground to sunbathe at this time of year!!
After the park we headed back to the bus stand on the side of the main road between Agra and Jaipur. Have to admit that I felt very weird waving at random traffic in the dark. Must have worked though… Got us on a bus to Agra within 5 minutes! The cutest baby sat in front of us on the bus, trying to climb constantly into Jayne’s arms. Would have happily held him to, especially as mum dropped him on the floor to throw up out of the window (and then shouted at the dad for leaving him there!).
Back in Agra, Jayne managed to walk us down a slightly dodgy back street but got us to where we needed to be! A TukTuk back to the hotel and some dinner before scrubbing my dirty feet clean!!
Taj Mahal… Do we need to say anything else?!?!
Left the hotel at 5.30am to be the third people in line for tickets and were one of the first 200 people within the grounds. Nothing I could write about the Taj Mahal would do it justice… It is stunning! I know I’m very lucky that I got to see it for the second time. I think Jayne couldn’t believe she was actually there!
Went back to the hotel for breakfast, enjoying the view of the Taj from our rooftop terrace, still blown away by the sight of it! Decided that since it was still so early, we’d go visit another UNESCO World Heritage site. Fatehpur Sikri is a fortified ancient city about 40km from Agra. Decided to get the local bus for the hour-long journey. As we got onto the bus, I commented to Jayne how cool and breezy it was compared to others we’d been on. We then noticed that the front grill had been removed basically exposing the front part of the bus to the open road! To be on the safe side, we headed to the back of the bus and stood by the door that was closed using a piece of thin string… The lesser of two evils!!
Built by Emperor Akbar between 1571 and 1585, Fatehpur Sikri has a massive mosque and three palaces (one for each of his favourite wives). We visited the mosque first, the entrance of which is through a 54m high gate at the top of a flight of stone steps. Inside the mosque is a white-marble tomb decorated with mother-of-pearl. We then headed over to the palaces and pavilions. We wandered around the ruins, all of which are in various stages of renovation – some finished completly whilst others decidedly less so! We both like the octagonal hammam (bath) the best, mainly cause we were the only people there, it was full of bats and it made us feel like we were Indiana Jones!!
When we had walked around for about 3 hours and our legs felt like lead, we decided to head back to the bus station to go back to Agra. Managed to pick up the tastiest samosas en route in the bazaar.
Back in Agra, we laughed at a TukTuk driver who wanted to charge us 200 rupees to take us to the south gate (it’s a 70 rupees journey!). Managed to find a driver who would take us for the correct price, a quick walk to find an ATM, dinner then bed… We’re both shattered!!
An early-ish start to the day, catching the 8am train from Delhi to Agra. Met a French girl on the train so spent some of the 3-hour journey chatting away in French while Jayne read her book. Dismounting the train at Agra was significantly easier than when we had to do it at Chandigarh… No pushing, shouting or bruises!! Got in a TukTuk to the South Gate of the Taj Mahal with the intention of walking to our hotel. However, the driver, by coincidence, parked round the corner from the South Gate – right in front of our hotel! A quick check-in, dump of backpacks and we went back out to a different train station to get our tickets to Jaipur in 3 days time. Walked from the station to visit the Agra Fort. Built in 1565 on the bank of the Yamuna River, it was primarily used as a military structure. However, Shah Jahan (the man who built the Taj) turned it into a palace, and later it became his prison when his son seized power in 1658. It is a maze of buildings which almost forms a city within a city and there were several Mosques inside the fort walls.
Afterwards, we decided to give the rickshaw drivers a miss and walked through the 2km park that runs along the river bank, basically connecting the Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal (except for a slightly hair raising road crossing at the beginning!!).
Went back to the hotel and headed up to the roof terrace restaurant to enjoy the view of the sun setting over the Taj. Had dinner and sat in silence watching the fading sunlight change the outside of the memorial.
Aiming to get there before it opens in the morning so we can be one of the first ones in and hopefully see it as the sun rises (and with less tourists!!).
Arrived in Delhi at 4.30am, bleary eyed and definitely not bushy tailed!! Got hounded as soon as we got off the bus by TukTuk drivers, which after about 5 minutes sleep, didn’t go down too well… Jayne took the brunt of my anger but, thankfully, it was short lived as we found ourselves walking towards the metro station and away from pestering TukTuk drivers! Took a short metro ride to New Delhi station and from there it was plain sailing (mainly cause we knew where we were headed!!). Quick pit stop at the International Tourist Office to buy our train tickets for Agra tomorrow and we were back at Zostel Delhi. Couldn’t check until 12pm so we left our bags in storage and headed out for the day.
Headed back out on the metro to visit Humayun’s Tomb. Built in the mid-16th century, the two-tone combination of red sandstone and white marble was truly breathtaking. Because we were there so early we managed to visit the main tomb, the other tombs in the complex and the 30 acres of formal gardens without loads of tourists.
After the tomb, we headed towards the National Zoological Gardens but when we saw the crowds (and got more requests for having our photo taken with various Indian families) we decided to avoid it and head instead to the War Memorial Arch (also known as India Gate). The 42m-high stone memorial pays tribute to around 90,000 Indian army soldiers who died in WWI, the Northwest Frontier Operations and the 1919 Anglo-Afghan war.
Wandered along the gardens towards the metro and headed back to the hostel to check in, shower and plan our next few days in Agra.
Turned off all alarms this morning and woke to the gentle but persistent hub-bub of beeping horns and people of the streets outside. Had a safari booked for 2.30pm so decided to head for the temple on the hill. Accessible by foot or by cable car, we decided to walk the 2km up hill after seeing the queue for the cable car… Should have given us a clue why no one really walks – we were drenched in sweat within 2 steps!! Headed up the hill trail with ‘true’ pilgrims, who had to fight off monkeys who were trying to steal their food offerings! The monkeys knew exactly which colour bags had the good stuff in it!! Got to the top of the hill and joined the group of people going into the temple. It struck me whilst standing there how much it must cost to be religious – about every 2 metres there was another alter, to which everyone was putting down money, on top of all the pre-bought offerings (if the monkeys hadn’t stolen them!!).
As we walked back down the hill, enjoying the panoramic view of Haridwar, we saw a lady selling figs. Was going to get two portions until we saw her coat them in salt and MSG. Nice but possibly the weirdest figs we’ve ever had!
Back in town, we headed to our hotel to change our bags over for the safari. Slowly made our way to the meeting point, stopping to buy the nicest samosas I’ve had in a long time. Once we’d got to the hotel, we found out our safari had been cancelled. Apparently the national park has closed although Jayne thinks the guide couldn’t be bothered to take just 2 tourists. Got our refund and headed back to the Ganges river. Was very different during the day – it becomes a functional river as opposed to a religious one. People were bathing themselves, washing clothes and collecting water for cooking. Spent some time people watching – a particularily lovely pair were a father and young daughter who were washing their clothes. The girl was trying to copy everything her dad did. When he washed her hair she, like ever child I’ve ever known, moaned when shampoo got in her eyes!
Had a milkshake by the river before heading back to the hotel as the noise and heat got a bit too much for both of us. Spent some time looking at our photos and watched a bit of Pitch Perfect whilst eating dinner from the street vendor outside. Left the hotel at 10pm to get our night bus back to Delhi.
Left Chandigarh at 9am to get on a local bus towards Hardiwar. The bus driver gave us two seats near the front as it was more comfortable although Jayne feels like it was an excuse for him to perve easier!! As the hours passed by, we descended altitude and the heat became more intense… Stopped off for a quick lunch break and had one of the nicest egg fried vegetable sandwiches! Jayne reckons I was spared the worst of the driving with my little nap at the beginning of the journey.
Arrived in Haridwar around 2pm and started our usual search for somewhere to stay. Managed to find a hotel on our 4th try (it’s getting harder to just turn up… We might actually have to start planning stuff!! Especially with Dewali coming up!!). A quick walk around town, working out the layout and finding out that the train back to Delhi the following day was fully booked so we’ll have to get a night bus tomorrow night. Enquired about a safari in the national parks before we headed for the Ganges river at 6pm to watch the ‘blessing of the river’ ceremony. Sat by the riverside and watched as people bathed and sent floral tributes down the river. Slightly spoilt by watching local children fish the tributes out of the water about 10 metres down (obviously to re-sell) but I suppose that’s life here.
We meandered back down the town to book our safari adventure and went for dinner. Had a lovely vegetarian tali in a restaurant that I felt slightly uncomfortable eating in – not sure they had ever seen a tourist in there before so we often had a couple of waiters just watching us eat!